By BRIAN JENNINGS
Seven Connecticut wrestlers finished in the top six of their respective weight classes at the Eastern States Classic at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. on Saturday, Jan. 13, and Paul Calo was one of them. Calo helped propel the Blue Knights to 26th-place finish with 33 points out of 159 teams, finishing as runner-up in the 170-pound weight class to the 10th-ranked wrestler in the nation.
No Southington wrestler has finished higher at the elite national tournament.
“We’ve known for a long time that Pauly is good enough to be hanging with top kids in the country,” said Southington coach Derek Dion, adding that Calo was expected to compete well at the meet. “Once he realizes how good he is and wrestles aggressively, he can really beat anyone in the country.”
A win by default in the round of 16 and a late pin in the third period of the quarterfinals advanced Calo into the semifinals. He squeaked into the final with a 7-6 decision over two-time New York finalist Ross McFarland of Phoenix, but fell short to Greco-Roman and freestyle national finalist Tyler Barnes of Ballston Spa on an 8-2 decision in the championship bout.
“They had a few really good scrambles in the first period, but I thought it was pretty evenly matched in the first period,” the coach said. “That kid was a little more aggressive on his feet, so I was nervous about that.”
Barnes managed two points from a takedown in the first period and was able to close out with three points from an escape and takedown in the second and three more from a near fall in the third. Calo’s two points came on escapes in the first and third periods.
“That kid had won the tournament before,” said Dion. “Walking into that match, he was a little more relaxed and confident. When Pauly lost that first scramble, I think it got him out of his game a little bit. Being in that kind of a position in that big of a tournament for the first time might have affected him a little bit.”
Other Knights that represented Southington at the Eastern States Classic included Jacob Cardozo (126), Shaun Wagner (138), and Tagan Welch (145), as all advanced as far as the round of 32 in the championship bracket.
“I think all of our boys wrestled well out there,” the coach said. “That tournament only has really good kids with mostly place winners there. So you get the best of the best in every single match. Every match is a grind, and you can’t take off for a couple seconds and take a breather.”
Wyoming Seminary (215) won the tournament, followed by Wantagh (95) and Minisink Valley (86). Danbury (63) was the top Connecticut team, finishing in eighth.
Back in Connecticut on the same day, Southington wrestlers competed in the Greater Hartford Invitational at Hall High School in West Hartford as well. Jason Brault and Sebby Lombardo won their respective weight classes.
Earlier in the week, the Knights continued to roll through the CCC with a 62-16 rout at Hall.
Following a pair of tie scores through the first five bouts of the match, the Warriors jumped out in front by a point with the help of a 22-8 major decision in the sixth bout. However, the Knights pulled away with six pins and two Hall forfeits.
Calo (182), Cardozo (126), Wagner (138), Josh Vitti (145), Welch (152), Billy Carr (160), and Matt Jacobson (170) all landed pins. Cardozo recorded the fastest pin at 14 seconds into his bout.
The Knights will be back on the mat this week when they host divisional Newington in their lone match of the week. Match time is 6 p.m.
According to Connecticut Wrestling Online’s weekly Top 10 high school wrestling poll, Southington is currently fourth with a 6-2 record and 376 points. Danbury (7-0, 508) is atop the list with 16 votes, followed by Bristol Eastern (5-0, 446) and Fairfield Warde (5-1, 392).
For this week’s box scores, click here: (southingtonobserver.com/2018/01/16/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-jan-19-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.